Managing the Meltdown

by James Lehman, MSW
Managing the Meltdown

Q: Why do kids have behavioral meltdowns and tantrums? What goes on in a child’s mind that makes him come unglued?

Kids have meltdowns and temper tantrums for two reasons. The first reason is that they have never learned how to manage or have run out of the tools it takes to manage their feelings in a new situation or event. The second reason they have tantrums is because it’s been successful for them in the past. They’ve seen that when they have a tantrum, they get what they want pretty quickly.

It’s all about learning and developing coping skills from day one with children. Here’s why. If a child is confronted with a situation that he hasn’t learned how to manage yet, his response is fight or flight. It’s a survival response. Very often, they can’t get out of the situation. It may be at the mall, in the car or at grandma’s house. If they can’t flee the situation, then they fight, and the way that they fight is by acting out or having a meltdown.

Related: Does your child use meltdowns and tantrums in order to get his or her way?

If the parents don’t respond in an effective way, the child learns that having a meltdown or a temper tantrum will help him accomplish a goal. When a child is in a stressful situation, has a tantrum and the parent gives in to him, that’s as far as he needs to go. He won’t have to learn how to be patient, manage his anxiety and deal with stress. He just has to act out so that his parent takes care of all that. This is a skill that children learn. It’s not because they’re bad kids or good kids. It’s simply what works for them. They learn a problem-solving skill that says “If I’m disruptive to other people, then it solves my problem.” The child doesn’t have to deal with the stress because everyone else is busy running around trying to calm him down and they eventually give in to him.

Tantrums are to be expected, but they’re not to be rewarded.

Parents develop a range of often ineffective ways of responding to and trying to manage the child’s behavioral meltdown. They’ll either go to one extreme and scream, yell, threaten, restrain, grab or spank the child. Or they go to the other extreme: they give in. The parent solves the problem, but not through the most effective means. In my experience, parents are very resistant to the idea of their kids being unhappy or uncomfortable. They learn what their child has taught them: if you make me uncomfortable, I’m going to make you uncomfortable. When a child throws a tantrum at the mall and kicks and screams on the floor, in effect, he’s saying, “You have more to lose than me.” You do have more to lose. You’re embarrassed. You can’t accomplish your goal of shopping in the mall. People are looking at you. You feel like a bad parent, and you think everyone around you considers you a bad parent. The kid has nothing to lose and everything to gain. He doesn’t care what people think. He just wants to control you and get an ice cream cone. Inadvertently, parents teach kids that meltdowns work, and as long as something works, it’s human nature not to change it.

Related: Is your child training you to give in?

I think that if meltdowns work for a child, you’ll see them continue. But as the child gets older, meltdowns will start to look like abusive or intimidating behavior. It’s a tantrum at age 5. At age 15, it’s breaking things around the house, threatening physical violence and using abusive language. So those childhood meltdowns become very serious things.

Q: Are tantrums to be expected…or even accepted in children and adolescents? Is it just something they naturally go through?

Children are going to get overwhelmed, frustrated, angry and have temper tantrums. The way parents manage that will determine the frequency and intensity of the meltdown. Can we stop meltdowns? Absolutely not. This is a part of childhood development. This is how they get out some very painful or confusing feelings. But can we manage their frequency and can we manage their intensity? Absolutely. It all depends on how we respond to them. Tantrums are to be expected, but they’re not to be rewarded. You have to set limits with your child, and teach him the skills to manage overwhelming feelings on his own. If you don’t set up a situation where the child has to learn how to manage those overwhelming feelings and negative thoughts on his own, he’s never going to learn.

The important thing to remember is that it’s not whether tantrums are inevitable. It’s how parents manage them that will determine their frequency and intensity.

Q: So, how should a parent manage these outbursts? What’s the appropriate response for a parent to have when they see a tantrum so that they can stop the inappropriate behavior and prevent it from happening in the first place?

It’s important to remember that there’s a difference between what the child learns and what the parent says. When you say something to a child, that’s not necessarily what he’s going to learn. He’s not going to learn from what you’re saying. He’s going to learn from what you’re doing. Parents often give speeches about how kids have to behave appropriately. How a certain behavior is not fair to others. How difficult it is and what’s going to happen next time. Then what the parent does is give in. Or the parent escalates their own behavior. These are natural responses, but they are ineffective. Kids learn from what parents do, not from what parents say. When you give in to a child after he acts out, then give him a speech about his behavior, you may think, “Good, I taught him a lesson. He understands now.” But the kid thinks, “Good, I got the ice cream cone. I got my way.” Or, “Good, I didn’t have to do it again.” Parents often know the right thing to say, but don’t know the right thing to do. They’re left scratching their heads saying, “I explained this to him a thousand times. I don’t know why he doesn’t understand.” He doesn’t understand because there’s something in the parent’s behavioral response that is reinforcing that behavior. It’s a payoff for the kid. And as long as he gets paid off, he’s going to keep doing it.

Related: How to give effective consequences that work for your child.

You have to not give into the meltdown, but you have to understand it and what starts it. Step one is to identify what triggers the child’s behavior--through either you own observations, knowledge or insight, through what you can elicit from the child or what you observe in the environment. Step two is to teach the child that acting out is not the way to manage this. The key is not to listen to the excuse afterwards; it’s getting the kid to understand that when a particular thing happens, he begins to get upset. And when he begins to get upset, there are things he has to do differently in order not to lose control.

The most effective way to do it is to intervene right when the child starts to lose control and say one of the following:

  • “This is what seems to trigger you. Let’s look at what you do when you get angry.”
  • “Let’s look at what you do when you don’t get your way.”

Don’t say: “How do you feel?” Say, “Let’s look at what you do when you get angry.”

Show the child what he does when he gets angry or doesn’t get his way. Tell him that rolling on the floor or screaming at the top of his lungs won’t solve his problem. Then say this:

  • “What are you going to do differently the next time this happens?

With younger children, parents should not give in. If your child has outbursts in the car while you’re driving, talk to him before the next outing. Tell him, “Sometimes when we’re in the car, you get upset and start screaming. When you do this, it’s not safe for us. The next time that happens, I’m going to pull over to the side of the road, and I’m going to give you five minutes to get yourself under control. If you can’t get yourself under control, I’m going to turn around, and we’ll go home.”

I tell parents that when a meltdown happens in a store, leave the store. Explain to the child in the car before you go into the store, “Sometimes when you don’t get your way, you get upset and you yell and roll on the floor. If you do that, we’re leaving the store. I just want you to know that.” As a kid gets older, you can tell him, “I’m leaving the store, and if you resist me or fight me, I’ll be in the car. You can find me. You know where the car is.” Certainly you wouldn’t leave a four-year-old in a store, but with a nine- or a ten-year-old, you might. If they try to play the game of “you can’t make me” say, “You’re right. I can’t make you. I’m going out to the car and I’ll call the security guard and maybe they can help you out.” You’re putting the pressure back on the child to behave appropriately. Is that risky? Of course, there’s always risk. But on the other hand, it’s risky to give in over and over again. I’m not advising every parent to do this. I’m saying it’s an option and you can learn the situations for which it might be appropriate.

Related: Learn the 3 important roles you should play with your child in order to be an effective parent.

Parents need to focus on the fact that a tantrum is a power struggle your kid is trying to have with you. It’s a strategy to try to get his way with the least amount of discomfort to him. Sometimes that means blowing up the most discomfort to the parent. Too often, parents forget that they have the power. This kid is trying to wrestle some power from you. As a parent, you hold the cards. You just have to play those cards well. Part of the hand you’re dealt has to do with your own parenting skills, your background and your natural ability. But a big part of it is how you play those cards: learning how to use your child’s natural skills and abilities, understanding their deficits, and then using your natural skills and abilities to help that child learn to manage situations and understand that acting out and misbehaving is not the way to solve the problem. Parents have this power and they can do this. I see it all the time. Believe me, the payoff to their family life and to their children is immeasurable.

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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."


I like the article however more often you end up in many situations where you cannot just up and leave or turn around and go home. My child is now 6 and still having melt downs often! It is scary as they do become abusive and refuse to come with you without being physically dragged! She then continues her tantrum for another 1/2 hour and continuously says the same thing whether its I want or Why can't I. It gets a little hard to ignore and I am finding myself losing my temper more easily as I am worn down from the constant melt downs. She does this daily and I NEVER GIVE IN and we always try to reason but your right it does not work. We tried showing her and asking etc. Nothing seems to be working with her!

Comment By : Peggy

I wish you were around 28 years ago. I woud ave been a stronger parent. Thank you for all that you do

Comment By : pda

It really helps to give practical examples and how to handle them. My greatest parenting concern is coming up with appropriate consequences and not 'overdoing' the lesson.

Comment By : JM

GREAT ARTICLE - VERY HELPFUL. Clickingon the stars did not work

Comment By : Katy

This article reinforces the things I have been trying with my 5 year old grandson. His father has custody and they live with us. This really works.

Comment By : Nana

The more specific, the better! We all have those shopping episodes, so following up the background understanding with detailed instructions really helps.

Comment By : gram

I've noticed that having an "escape route" is key. (kind of a plan for what I'll do when I KNOW they are going to melt down.) Like this article says, there are risks in saying you are leaving and walking away. I've done this to my 5 1/2 year-old son for quite a while. I usually get as far as the end of the aisle or the door of a store before he freaks and comes with me. I will admit that I started doing this when he was about 2 1/2 and it was at church, so I knew it was a safe environment. The congregants were VERY supportive. I felt that doing it in a familiar place with kind observers made my work easier. Maybe you can try a few practice rounds where you know it is safe - not a friend's house where they always stay and have fun, but maybe at a church, club, or small store where you know the owners? I think the older they get the harder this is. It works like a charm now - and I've now started with my other 2 year old.

Comment By : Aimes

how do you handle a five year with this kind of situation. Also, a 15yr how complians that every thing is boring

Comment By :

I did this with my kids when they were little, but Dr. Lehmann didn't explain what to do with a teen or "old teen" who pulls this stuff: kicking in the walls, breaking things, throwing things, etc. I've tried the police, but that doesn't always work. I ended up throwing out the 22 year old, but I can't do that with the 15 year old.

Comment By : Weary Mom

How do you handle this when the reason they are throwing the fit is to get you to leave because they don't want to be there?

Comment By : mia2520

I am a grandmother and I use those techniques and it works. You are right, I am very uncomfortable but my grandchildrn show much love and affection for me and I for them. Don't give in.

Comment By : marjory7

My 8 year old daughter started tantrums for the 1st time at 7 1/2, they are usually weekly, and she begins with baby talk...whining...annoying behaviors. Every once in a while she can reel herself in, but sometimes they go on for 1/2 exhausting. We do not give in, but I do tend to talk at her later, which you say does not work. She says "I'm trying not to do it". Thanks for this website and your wisdom and compassion. We all need that as parents (as people).

Comment By : robink

I agree with Mia - My 7 yr old son loses it in the car and while out and doesn't care because he WANTS to go home. He cannot be in a car for more than a minute without picking a fight with his 6 yr. old sister. When I pull over and get out of the car for a few minutes while he "calms down" he just continues fighting iwth his sister. I guess I need to remove her from the car too. She is afraid of him and doesn't trust him. I am having a similar problem to Peggy. My son's persistense in protesting to get his way (and by protesting I mean flopping like a fish on the floor, screaming his wants over and over, threatening me, and even being verbally and physically abusive in the wake of a meltdown) is because I used to give in in the past and am still paying the price. I am now much better at towing the line calmly without escalating, and on a couple of occassions he even started to laugh at himself. Later I can say, "how's that working for you?". And he will agree it isn't, but he still does it anyway! I then tell him how he can EARN what he wants, but he still doesn't want to be held accountable for having to refrain from fighting with his sister, or whatever behavior I am trying to get him to stop because he knows he lacks self control so just feels set up for failure and disappointment. And indeed he fails. It is really sad, and I feel for him. What kind of coping behaiviors can I teach him to manage those "triggers"? If his sister provokes him (and sometimes she does) I tell him to come to me instead of lashing out at her. He says I don't do anything to punish her, and I tell him that is because she gets it 0- she actually stops the behavior if I tell her to. He thinks I am unfair and mean to him, but in truth I have to parent them very differently. I am frustrated and worn out, but committed to helping him learn. Indeed, more specific tactics you can advise would be helpful.

Comment By : Kristin

* Dear Kristin: I see two different issues here: temper tantrum meltdowns and sibling rivalry. I’d like to direct you to the article "Sibling Rivalry: Good Kid vs. Bad Kid" on Empowering Parents for some ideas on that topic. I think your assessment that your son is still persisting with his meltdowns because you have given in to him in the past is probably accurate. The best course of action is to wait it out until he learns his temper tantrum behavior will never work again. As James Lehman says, your child learns more from what you do then from what you say. What do you do when you’re upset? Do you take a deep breath or two? Do you go for a walk, listen to music or go to a different room, away from the person or thing you’re upset with? Share these skills with your child and try to notice what works for him so you can remind him in the future. You can say, “I’ve noticed that you usually are able to calm yourself down if you spend some time in your room by yourself.” I hope this advice helps. Best of luck to you, Kristin.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I'd also like to read more about what to do with older children. My pre-teen does not really throw tantrums, but does have meltdowns and verbally lashes out when he is frustrated. Generally, the frustration is triggered by his need to be in control of every situation (mastering his school work, his perception of bad behavior of other kids toward him or other kids, even having the right clothes clean and ready to wear). The meltdowns can happen in a sports situation or minutes before we have to leave for school. I'd like to hear more about how to deal with the meltdowns on the spot, stop it before it gets out of control and teaching him how to avoid the meltdowns. My double delima is that in my opinion, his father (very similar personality) is short on some of these skills himself and so it just telling me I'm doing everything wrong.

Comment By : a worried mom

I found this article helpful, but I would also like some suggestions on how to deal with these meltdowns when they happen when the parent is not there. For instance, my son has meltdowns occasionally at school. How do I prevent from those happening?

Comment By : Concerned Mom On complaints of everything being boring I have a standing rule that since I am never bored with all the work around our house that is left undone on any given day, I put them to work. Some moms have a jar with chores or extra monthly or weekly or even especially dirty jobs on pieces of paper that can be drawn be the complainer. The concept is basically that if you complain about being bored you are handed a toilet brush. But I have had this going since mine were very young and also used to doing chores so I don't know if it would work at this point with a 15 year old.

Comment By : BusyMom


Comment By : EMMA40

I agree with Kristin. The only difference is my son has ADHD and yes he also feels I am unfair to him for not punishing his sister, but also in my case she stops when asked. I am totally frustrated. He occasionally has bad meltdowns. When he decides to have one it is always because he wants something before he goes to bed. For example he has been listening to the calming CD each night before bed, which honestly has helped him. But there is just times when I lose control and have to walk away and let him throw his tantrum even if he keeps his sisters awake. I have even removed him completely and made him come downstairs to our room and shut the door and we can still hear him. Eventually he calms down and is very apologetic afterwards, but boy is it tiring.

Comment By : Stephanie

Well I have a bad situation with my 8yo daughter, my husband passed away just over a yr ago and I have started dating, I actually have a boyfriend and he is just wonderful but she has decided that she hated him the first time that she met him. I also have a 3yo son who is fine with the situation, I believe that is is because he is younger. I go to my boyfriends on the weekends and leave my daughter at home with my mom. I had to do this because my daughter was having meltdowns the 2 weekends that she went with us, she would cry and throw a temper tantrum all weekend, crying that she wanted to go home or that she wanted grandma. No body would get any sleep and she would constantly wake up the baby so that I would go out to check on him, or would scream at the top of her lungs all night that she wanted me to sleep with her and her brother all night. After 2 weekends of this we decided that she should not go with us until she could behave, but the problem that I am seeing with this is SHE got just what she wanted and every time I ask her if she would like to go with us for the weekend she says NOPE. We don't want her to hate either if us, we would also like to get to live together and eventually get married, we can't even get her to go there for a weekend without a fit and making everyone miserable. I know that it is my fault as well as the fits have always worked for her in the past, but I no longer want my children to control me, yes my son is starting to act like his sister.

Comment By : Nightmares4all

Nightmares4all. Your children's father passed away just over a year ago and you are already spending the night with your kids with a boyfriend? Don't you think you are pushing your kids into something a little too fast? They may be young, but THEY need time to deal with the death of their father. They don't need to feel that you are replacing him so soon. I won't even go into the damage you are doing to YOURSELF. Think about your kids!

Comment By : Olderand Wiser

Very insightful. I have a small story to tell that happened just this this morning and I would really appreciate any feedback. I was dropping my 4 1/2 yr. old son off at school and he was already in a bad mood saying "I'm very mad at you mommy" because I wouldn't let him sit in the front of the car on the floor on the way to school (Where the dog does if he happens to come with us for the ride) Obviously he can't sit there, that's just not safe. So, anyway, the silent ride is over and we get to school. As son as we walk in, it starts... "I'm not doing it, I'm not going". Granted he hasn't had a meltdown with me recently at home (probably because I give in too easily) but I do know some teachers at school walk around on egg shells. Anyway, a total meltdown occurred. I didn't want to drag him back to class because I don't think it's fair to disrupt the other children. I would've have left if it was at a store, only because I have learned some tools in dealing with tantrums; but at school, what was I going to do? He can't just go home because he doesn't want to go (By the way, I am 'normally' a single, working mom, however I was just recently laid off from my job, so 'normally', I would be even more stuck, since I would not have the time to deal with a tantrum). So, I decided that I would just wait for him to calm down, I left him alone, stood a coouple feet away, and waited. I felt if he could just sit and wait, then I would wait him out. 45 minutes later, he finally starting drinking some juice and asked me to read him the book (one of the teachers gave both to him; she was trying to help me). So I read him the book quickly and we were off to class. (He just started VPK about 2 weeks ago, however missed alot of days simply because I didn't have the money to his routine was interupted). However, on the way to VPK class, he just did not want to go, he asked to please let him stay in the class with the same teachers he was recently transitioned from (kids in this class are about 1 yr younger). She said it was "ok" and that she'd see if she could get him to his VPK class after 15-20 min's or so. I left to come home after that, and can't stop thinking if he became calm enough to let her bring him to class. Please let me know if what I did was right, or what I should've done, etc. I'm very concered for my son, I have anxiety and depression, adult add, etc. All the good stuff. Im worried he's following in the same foot steps and that I'm not working hard enough to give him the tools needed in order to fit into society and be happy with himself. Thanks, Merideth

Comment By : M C W

My wife and I yell at each other in front of the kids...we yell at the kids when they push our buttons... I feel like this is a huge obstacle for teaching our kids how to respond to problems and teaches them how to respond to us. I am much better at "not" yelling. This is certainly because I am not with the kids all day long having to put up with all the sibling rivalry and disrespectful behavior. I am trying to find tools for my wife and I to employee to stop the yelling. Sounds simple...just stop yelling. Not working...I'm pretty good at it...but I don't have the pressures that she does. We are trying to listen to the CDs and employ the methods of the consequence DVD as well. However, we can't seem to get this yelling thing to stop...both the kids and ourselves. I've recommended counseling but the response is always...we can't afford it...we don't have time for it... Is this normal behavior or should we really seek help?

Comment By : Bufford Wymee

I have 3 kids (21,18 & 15) and have learned so much from this forum over the years. We still have issues and I still have to step back at times to figure out what's going wrong and what needs to be adjusted and usually end up spending hours on this website looking for clues - it's so helpful! The one thing that I've learned as I look back at the good times and the bad times is the difference in how my marriage is behaving, and how much "fun time" I'm spending with my kids. It's like putting money in the bank for a rainy day when you spend just quality one-on-one time with each kid doing what they enjoy. It breaks down a lot of barriers and offers times to discuss "when things go bad" or how you remember being a frustrated teen as well. I know we are not supposed to be friends with our kids, but it sure helps them want to please me when I show them I can be a friend to them. I will never forget when a friend of mine said -years ago- "why does my child seem to misbehave the most when I'm stressed and really needing them to behave?" We both just stared at each other at the revelation in what she said. Like Mr. Lehman sais, they learn by what we do - not by what we say to them. Show them respect and acceptance and understanding of the tough time they're having and they will eventually show you the same. Well, not always...but many times. I also tell my kids that I will trust them until they give me reason not to trust them and when they mess up...they know it takes a long time to earn my trust back and I get overinvolved again and embarrass them with their friends! We laugh about it now at this age, but it has worked for me. My heart goes out to the kids of the mom thats leaving the kids at grandma's to go sleep with the boyfriend - your kids are only little once and need you so badly right now...enjoy them, spend time with them! The men that will sleep with you will always be around - but not your kids. Being a mom is a tough job and I'm so glad we have Mr. Lehman to help us. BTW - all 3 of my kids are diagnosed OCD, 2 with social anxiety, 1 with Turrets, 1 with ADD and a husband that still has tempertantrums! Take your mom job seriously and keep trying - the payoffs are worth it. Thanks for letting me share and encourage hopefully.

Comment By : my kids mom

Is it okay to put child throwing a temper tantrum in their bedroom until they are done? Some people say it is and some say it isn't. Which is it. My use of the bedroom is to remove the audience.

Comment By : Frustrated

* Dear Frustrated: Whatever is calming to your child is recommended. However, usually a child’s temper will escalate if they are "locked" in their bedroom and isolated as a punishment. Reducing over-stimulation is your goal. Many times that means moving away from your child, but that can be done by telling them to rest for a few minutes, and then you leave them and go to another room. Coaching them on how to calm down is important -- but say very little. Very young children are still thinking that the parent alone is capable of changing how they feel. You can help with this learning by saying, “I wish I could help you calm down. When you are feeling better, come on back out of your room.” Hope this helps!

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I am a grandmother of 3 children, 2 of them I have with me & my husband frequently. The two children we have frequently are brother and sister. My granddaughter, age 4 (youngest of the two), has frequent temper tantrums. I've been using the method mentioned by "frustrated", sending her to our bedroom until she can come back calmed down. While she's in the room, she becomes very destructive, stripping the bed, throwing things around. While reading the information posted by Carole Banks, I can now understand a child feeling "locked up" and can also see how I "over talk" a situation. The next time my granddaughter has a meltdown I will try the "I wish I could help you calm down". . .method. There's so much wonderful information here and I thank you.

Comment By : Nanna

I have a 7 year old step-daughter that has been having crying fits over doing the smallest of things, whether cleaning her room, putting away her laundry, or doing homework. These fits seem to go on sometimes for an hour and a half. Nothing seems to stop these fits, other than having her take a bath to calm down. Even then, the fits may continue for another 30 minutes. My husband and I have the complicated task of having custody of my step-children (the 7 year old and her 10 year old sister) every other week and often spend the majority of the week "fixing" the behavior issues that occur from the previous week the children have spent with their mother, and the total lack of rules and supervision they have with her. This week, the 7 year old has had three crying fits in 2 days, one that started at bedtime and lasted until 11pm. The topics of the crying fit range from being afraid of storms, to not getting to watch TV, to having to go to bed early. It was not feasible to run a bath at 11pm to calm her down when my husband and I both had to get up at 5am to get ready for work. My husband and I take turns trying to speak with her and calm her down and figure out the underlying issue. Are we coddling her too much? Should we leave her to cry herself to sleep? These late nights are getting to both of us. Any help would be greatly appreciated. She also does not want to sleep in her own room, which is supposedly not an issue when she is at her mother's house. (Needless to say, her mother is less than communicative with us). She would rather sleep on the couch or in her sister's room. We have a rule that on school nights, each child must sleep in their own room to minimize distractions and let them get a good night's sleep. But this doesn't seem to be happening very much, for her or for us! Any insights, suggestions, or comments would be appreciated.

Comment By : At A Loss

* Dear ‘At a Loss’: We’re sorry to hear your family is experiencing this. There are many challenges involved when blending together a new family. Transitioning back and forth between parents homes can be very hard and unsettling for kids. If your step-daughter finds comfort in sleeping in her sister’s room, that may be a very practical, easy solution for the time being. Many kids share rooms and learn how to fall asleep with very little distraction occurring. There is nothing wrong with changing your house rules if they are not working. James Lehman says that when you have the ‘realization’ that a rule isn’t working, don’t continue it. You may also find it less stressful for you if you can forget about what happens at their mother’s house—don’t let it concern you. Simply accept the kids ‘just as they are’ and not view them as needing to ‘be fixed’ during their time with you each week. You may find this more relaxed attitude toward them helps build your friendship with your step-children. Be sure to let the 7yo’s pediatrician know the frequency and duration of her ‘crying fits’ in case he feels it might be appropriate to refer her to another professional. We wish your family the best and invite you to keep in touch with us.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I have a 5 yr son who has been having tantrums since I can remember. I asked his doctor about it and they've said he will outgrow it. They used to be almost daily...kicking, screaming, etc. The calmed down slightly for a while but they are back in full force. He kicks screams cries etc if he can't get his way. I honestly do NOT give in at all. I have tried to talk to him about it and afterwards (which can be 30min+) he will say he's sorry and.he loves me. I still don't give in I try to talk to him and tell him how his tantrums do the situation. Its gotten to a point he's seen me cry because.honestly some days I feel like I doing something wrong. His dad and I are divorced but this started long before him and I had issues. I have another.son who is 2 and I feel bad.he misses out on things because of his big brother. I don't know do. I must say they don't happen in school....they think he is the sweetest thing ever. The tantrums even happen on trips, disney world, cruises, beach etc. I have pics when he was 18 months of him in Jamaica on a vacation screaming. I do everythinfor my sons I go without so they can have. I plan activities every weekend to do and the have activities they're involved in. I really don't know do and.I feel so lost and confused I'm doing something wrong. They don't just occur with me. They happen with other family members as well. I am open to any advice. Please help....

Comment By : in tears and frustrated

* Dear ‘in tears and frustrated’: We’re sorry to hear that your family is struggling with this. It’s always a good idea to keep your pediatrician informed of the nature, frequency and duration of temper tantrums even though it is true that we get better at managing our emotions as we get older. Because your son is so young, put your energy into helping him learn physical skills to calm himself down rather then trying to get him to mentally understand the impact of his tantrums. If your son offers an apology and says he loves you, it’s okay to accept his apology and give him a hug. Help him continue to calm down in this way. It’s not ‘giving in’ to comfort him. It would be ‘giving in’ if he had a temper because he wanted something from the store and you bought it in order to calm him down. Temper tantrums are very stressful for the parents and the kids. Try your best to remain as calm as possible. It’s really helpful during the child’s temper tantrums if he experiences the parent as being in control when he's out of control. For information and ideas on what to do with temper tantrums, read: Dealing with Child Temper Tantrums from Toddler to Pre-teen. We appreciate your question and wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I am a single mom raising a 7 year old. I am at wits ends. She too has started major fits over the littest of things. From cleaning her room, to homework, chores. When she was 2 her father and I seperated. He died last Decemember. Not our doing but we did not attend the funeral so no real closeure. I am struggling finacialy and not making ends meet to add to the stress from trying to fight the estate to get money. More stress. From trying to get the house organized, cleaned I always feel like the maid and get angry at her for not pulling her weight..Like dumping trash under the couch because she is to lazy to put it in the trash. She is very smart and outgoing but with mom she has become mouthy and the fits I want to run! I need help and don't know what to do or where to turn.

Comment By : digger

* Dear ‘digger’: It’s takes a lot of work and energy to raise a child. When you add a lot of stressors to the picture, it can quickly become an over-whelming task. It does sound like you could use some help. Think about what resources are available to you, such as your family, your church community, or your friends, and ask them for some support. Reducing your stress will have a positive effect on you and your child. Your daughter will be more relaxed and focused in response to you being in more control. It’s not unusual for kids to act out after a parent has died. Ask her school counselor for information on groups for grieving children. We wish your family the best as you move through this difficult time.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Our 5 year son is having problems with self control and having tantrums at school. He has meltdowns when the bus in late and has to wait in the "sweaty stinky gym". He says he is hot. He also looses it when friends cannot play or come over. He gets frustrated easily with homework at school. He is also have problems with problem solving. Are there any workshops to work on problem solving and focus. Most days he has to bring home his homework that in mostly incompleted. he didn't talk until 3.5 yrs old. And I have to admit, we probably are not the most patient people and are working on that everyday! I am rambling. Any help is appreciated.

Comment By : doc4addy

* Dear Doc4addy: Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, we do not offer any workshops. We do have many articles that give advice on how to help children better solve their problems. In particular, you might want to read Good Behavior is not “Magic”—It’s a Skill The Three Skills Every Child Needs for Good Behavior. As James Lehman says, “I believe that if parents get the proper training on how to be more effective, and they're willing to use those techniques, then they're going to have children who can solve their developmental life problems effectively.” If you do not feel equipped to help your son on your own, it might be a good idea to seek some local supports. You can search for support in your local area by visiting, an information and referral service run by the United Way. Good luck to you.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

This was a great article. The only thing I found not mentioned is the fact that meltdowns can sometimes be triggered by sensory issues or pain. For some children, a strong smell, or a loud sound can be physically painful for them. If behavior techniques are not working, a good sensory OT may be able to find the trigger.

Comment By : Autismmom

My son is in 1st grade, 6 years old, and is having horrible temper tantrums at school. At any given time when he is reprimanded, even in the slightest.. he melts down. His melt downs include screaming, kicking, throwing things, kicking his teachers. This happened in daycare and I thought it was his age, and then it happened in pre-k and kindergarten. However when he is home with me, I rarely ever see this behavior. If he is in trouble, his punishment is to go to his room and to come out when he decides to behave and listen. I have met with the teachers, principal, school counselor. And they all look at me like I should be able to fix his behavior. Im at such a loss. I have talked to my son and we have discussed daily, anger management techiniques, deep breath, count to 10, etc. nothing seems to be working. Today in a meeting the principal mentioned he might need medication? I dont feel he has ADD, as he can sit and watch a movie for hours- he reads and has very little difficulty in staying focused on whatever we are doing, he is not hyper. He is smart, above average intellegence for his age. He is fun and loving. Something sets him off, he goes from sweet to angry in matter of 5 seconds- and he shuts down- there is no communicating with him. As I said, this only happens at school, or when he is not with me. I have him involved in Karate and Flag Football. I just dont know what to do. I feel so bad for the teachers, they love him, but they are struggling daily on getting through his outbursts. Should I medicate him?

Comment By : what now?

* To “what now?”: Thank you for sharing your story. You ask an important question, one we are often asked on the Parental Support Line. We would suggest talking with his pediatrician or primary care provider and asking him if medication is going to be helpful or effective for your son. It can be difficult to determine whether or not medication is going to be the best course of action for your son and his doctor would be the best person to make that determination. Here are a couple articles by Dr. Bob Meyers that address this topic: Dr. Bob on ADHD: To Medicate or Not to Medicate?, ADHD: A Treatment with No Side Effects? New Study Says Behavioral Therapy is as Effective as Medication & Early Intervention Helps Children with ADHD. We hope this information has been helpful and wish you and your family the best. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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temper tantrums, behavior problems, consequences, coping skills, Effective Parenting, problem solving, toddlers, tweens, teens, childhood phases, acting out, James Lehman, The Total Transformation

Responses to questions posted on are not intended to replace qualified medical or mental health assessments. We cannot diagnose disorders or offer recommendations on which treatment plan is best for your family. Please seek the support of local resources as needed. If you need immediate assistance, or if you and your family are in crisis, please contact a qualified mental health provider in your area, or contact your statewide crisis hotline.

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